Once again, one of the highlights of Tuesday night’s episode of “American Idol” — which was focused on songs that had hit No. 1 on the pop charts — was Crystal Bowersox’s performance. Armed with her trusty guitar and her disarming voice, the rocker sang “Me and Bobby McGee,” which reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
There’s a bittersweet feeling within the lyrics of “Bobby,” as well as in the story surrounding it. The song was written by country legends Kris Kristofferson (who has had a string of hits himself) and Fred Foster (who produced much of Roy Orbison’s best work and helped introduce the world to Dolly Parton) and was recorded by “King of the Road” singer Roger Miller and Canadian folk king Gordon Lightfoot in 1969 and 1970, respectively.
Both of those versions became hits, but neither was as big as the one recorded by Joplin, who was friends and occasional lovers with Kristofferson. The bluesy growler recorded the song without his knowledge for her solo album Pearl, which she cut with the Full Tilt Boogie Band.
Pearl came out in February of 1971, four months after Joplin’s October 1970 death from a heroin overdose. “Me and Bobby McGee” was released as a commercial single and hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 during the week of March 20, 1971, making Joplin only the second person in history to top that chart posthumously.
Though Joplin’s version remains definitive, “Me and Bobby McGee” has been covered by a number of artists, including country greats Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash, rock icons the Grateful Dead and Melissa Etheridge, and pop idols Olivia Newton-John and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Pink’s version of the track appears on her “Live in Europe” DVD, and Tori Amos has broken it out in concert.
Bowersox’s version marks the first time “Me and Bobby McGee” has appeared on “American Idol,” though songs performed by Joplin have popped up five times before. Nikki McKibbin, Carrie Underwood and Asia’h Epperson are among the “Idol” hopefuls who have performed “Piece of My Heart,” while Allison Iraheta knocked out Joplin’s “Cry Baby” last season.
What did you think of Crystal Bowersox’s take on “Me and Bobby McGee”? How does it compare to Janis Joplin’s version? Let us know in the comments!
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